Reusable bags only good if you use them

Linda Waits wants to help save the environment but, she admits, sometimes even the simplest fixes are easy to forget.

The 52-year-old Sacramento, Calif., resident is actually doing well today — she has remembered to bring her reusable grocery bags, giving herself an earth-friendly alternative to that enduring paper-or-plastic debate.

Also: “They hold a lot and they’re cheap,” says Waits of the totes made of recycled plastic as she wrapped up her shopping recently at a Safeway.

Used to be carrying such totes to lug your groceries was the purview of only the most environmentally conscious. But these days, more and more consumers — and the stores catering to them — opt for the eco-chic bags.

In addition to Safeway, several major grocery chains offer similar bags.

Trader Joe’s, the hip, low-cost specialty food chain, sells durable plastic bags in several sizes and designs. And Whole Foods Market, the upscale organic- and natural- foods grocer, recently launched its BYOB — Bring Your Own Bag — program, eliminating disposable plastic grocery bags in its 270 stores nationwide.

Perhaps it’s not too surprising. It seems a natural next step in the current think-global, go-local movement. Indeed, cities are embracing it, too.

San Francisco, for example, has banned disposable plastic bags in grocery stores, which have replaced them with biodegradable, compostable bags.

“After Earth Day 2007, the (reusable) bags turned up on everyone’s list as one of the top ways to save the environment,” says Vincent Cobb, founder of the Chicago-based Reusablebags.com, a line of eco-friendly products that includes grocery totes and produce bags. “They’re right up there with eco-friendly water bottles and incandescent lights.”

And yes, using the bags is a good start, he adds, but not if you just buy them on a whim or out of guilt — and then don’t use them.

“It needs to become a habit,” he says.

Several stores are trying to help with that by offering shoppers nifty incentives.

For instance, customers at Trader Joe’s who use any reusable bag — not just those sold by the store — are entered into monthly lotteries for free groceries, and Whole Foods gives customers a refund — which can be donated to charity — for every recyclable bag used on a shopping trip.

“It’s a win-win solution,” says Rebecca Bakken, a store team leader for Whole Food Market’s Sacramento store.

The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op has offered shoppers such enticements as recycled bags for the past decade. “We want to make every day Earth Day,” says the store’s education coordinator, Alicia Oldfield.

In recent months, Oldfield adds, she’s noticed a “definite” increase in the use of the bags, with some customers even eschewing plastic produce bags.

“I walk through the store and see carts filled with unbagged produce,” Oldfield says.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service

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